J urgen Klinsmann rarely is at a loss for words, but the U.S. national coach struggled to find an answer Wednesday night when a reporter asked him to name three good things to take from a 4-2 loss to Belgium that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
“Hmmm? Three? You challenge me with three?” he replied.
Truth is, that friendly in Cleveland seemed to expose U.S. weaknesses that surely must be a concern with a high-profile friendly against Germany on Sunday and three World Cup qualifiers coming up in the next 16 days.
It must be noted that Belgium is one of the hottest teams in Europe right now, with 10 players in the English Premier League and a serious shot at going deep in the 2014 World Cup after not qualifying for the last two. The Belgian national team is the third-most expensive in the world behind Brazil and Portugal based on combined transfer fees. They sit atop their World Cup qualifying group, and have allowed just one goal in six qualifying matches.
After watching them dance around the Americans and dominate for 90 minutes, we now see why some experts are calling Belgium the dark horse to win the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
That said, the U.S. — particularly the defense — should be mighty worried heading into a game against Germany on Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. (2 p.m., ESPN2). A sellout crowd of 46,000 will be on hand for the game against a watered-down German team. Despite missing 15 regulars, Germany had little trouble beating Ecuador 4-2 in Boca Raton on Wednesday and should pose a good test for the Americans.
Fans will want to see a much better U.S. performance than they saw against the Belgians, who left the American defenders flat-footed and confused as they scored three goals in a 15-minute second-half span. Up front, Jozy Altidore missed a golden opportunity to quiet critics who wonder how he can score 31 goals for his club team in Holland and then struggle to find the net when he wears his USA jersey.
It’s time to step up, as critical World Cup qualifiers loom in June.
The U.S. plays Jamaica in Kingston Friday night, never an easy task, and then faces first-place Panama in Seattle on June 11 and Honduras in Sandy, Utah, on June 18.
Through three of 10 qualifiers, the U.S. is 1-1-1 and sits in third place among the six CONCACAF teams. The top three earn automatic berths to the World Cup. The fourth-place finisher faces New Zealand in a playoff for another spot.
Klinsmann, the eternal optimist, refuses to panic. He says it’s beneficial to face the likes of Belgium and Germany to prepare for World Cup qualifiers that matter.
“When you lose them it’s not such a big pleasure,” he said, “but I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador 100 times because that’s where you learn.”
Time will tell if his theory proves true.
In the meantime, he will have a stronger roster against Germany than he had on Wednesday. Midfielder Michael Bradley is back with the team after completing his club obligations with Roma. Germany-based players Danny Williams, a midfielder, and defender Fabian Johnson are also available, as are Mexican League midfielder Joe Corona and defender Edgar Castillo.
The game has added significance for Klinsmann, who starred on the 1990 World Cup-winning German team and coached Germany to third place in the 2006 World Cup.
“We want to get things right so that when we get down to Kingston, we are firing and we win that game,” goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters in D.C. “Ultimately, we have to make sure our morale is good all the way through. Our mental state is important because the three [qualifiers] on the back end are going to make or break us.”
Defending World Cup champion Spain plays Haiti at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sun Life Stadium. The Spaniards, who are scheduled to arrive in Miami on Tuesday, are bringing their full A-squad as they prepare for the Confederations Cup in Brazil later this month. The roster includes nine players from Barcelona, five from Real Madrid, three from Chelsea and two from Arsenal.
Among the superstars are goalkeeper Iker Casillas, defender Jordi Alba, defender Gerard Pique, defender Sergio Ramos, midfielder Andres Iniesta, midfielder Sergio Busquets, midfielders Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez, and forwards David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Fernando Torres.
Tickets start at $29 and are available through www.sunlifestadium.com and www.ticketmaster.com or by calling the stadium box office at 305-943-8000. Ticketholders are invited to a public training session on Friday at the stadium.